<< Subj: news from the rubble Date: Friday,
September 14, 2001 2:46:43 PM From: c (Seth Castleman)
Dear friends and family,
The first moment to write and the hands not yet steady
on the keyboard.
Firstly, I hope I have not added to anyone's worry, by
not checking in sooner. I am alive and physically
unhurt. I was ironing a shirt to leave for an errand
at Park Place when I got the call about the disaster Monday morning.
Park Place, I have been told, was crushed by part of the falling buildings.
Since mid-day Monday I have been mostly at the sight helping with relief
The world is a whirl of love and sorrow.
What follows my be well short of organized and only
bordering on coherent, but considering the state of
things, perhaps it is appropriate. I wanted to share
some experiences, to help let them go, and to bring more people together
in the communal suffering and supporting.
First: The despair and frustration and sorrow and fear
that we are all feeling. The helplessness. We all
wish we could just get our hands on something to do.
I do not know how you can help, other than to pray and bear witness.
You have likely seen news more than I have over these days, so I cannot
tell people how to offer support. I do not know if this is still the
case, as I have been home for the last 12 hours getting
some sleep, but for the 2 days prior we were having
to turn away many volunteers. So much good will and
so little that we can do.
The volunteer effort of thousands, while very
disorganized and right and left often unaware of the
other, is in very good spirits with great depths of
kindness and strength. I have fallen in love and made dozens of dear
friends, as the best in people shines through in such
I have spent most of these days at Chelsea Piers,
coordinating the crisis unit for families looking
for loved ones, and then at ground zero amidst rubble
and dust and shocked sullen faces doing chaplaincy and crisis counseling
and coordinating counseling for the rescue workers.
People come in to the Chelsea Pier unit after visiting
every hospital in the city, desperate for some news.
The volunteer counselors and chaplains fill out
missing persons reports, sit with them, look at photos together, weep,
laugh, sit in silence. We give out hospital phone numbers,
let them see lists of the confirmed safe, enter all
the data and scan photos for a FEMA database of
missing persons. We hold hands and counsel and encourage people perhaps
to go home and be together with loved ones, as there is little else
to do. The waiting and not knowing is the most difficult
part, not sure whether to hope or mourn, the
families feel helpless and overwhelmed with fear.
At ground zero there is equal helplessness. We are
counseling firefighters, EMTs, iron workers, and
police as they come out of the rubble. For the families
it is horrible not to know, for these guys it is horrible to know.
I talked with no one who had found a body. Only parts.
Masses of pieces. Collecting fingers by the
hundreds, finger printing them and throwing them into
bags, sorting by size. Pediatrics here, adults here... An army man in
post traumatic stress, weeping about scooping up guts,
about reaching into crevasses to grasp a hand, only
How devastating to return to the family crisis unit
after spending all night hearing these stories from
the men in the rubble.
And God, as if to say, Do not take this to mean that The
Presence is not here, appeared in moments and
miracles. A man on the 82 floor. The plane hit that
floor and the enormous blast shot him out the window. Somehow he clung
to the ledge outside and when the building came down he went down with
it, sliding miraculously down the outside. He broke both
his legs, yet lived to tell his story.
A firefighter from upstate I sat with for an hour next
to the rubble. He found a body of a young Asian man,
flattened to just a few inches. The form was covered
in another inch or two of dust. (there are no cement blocks to move,
as all the cement and sheet rock crumbled to a fine and asbestos filled
dust which covers the ground and fills the air.) The body was almost
invisible under the dust, yet in the beam of his light
something shown. The left hand was grey like
everything else, but on one finger was a gold wedding
band, uncovered and shining clean, a golden line in a sea of deathly
grey. We mused together whether another worker had been
there first and cleaned it off ‹ and if so why he
hadn't collected the body ‹ or if an angel had
Shannon, a small retriever dog, sniffed and saved five
people at the Pentagon, then came here to find
another four. At least ten dogs have been killed in
the wreckage. They dig when they smell human, lie down when they smell
dead body. Almost no barks, and lying down is easier and easier as the
smell turns to stench.
My tag says chaplain, so people come up to talk, pray,
breath, or just be silent together. I am struck how
much The Presence (as God is sometimes called) can
so be found in the presence held between two people.
In the notebook I am using for volunteer names and
numbers and random details, I came across a note to
myself that I wrote on Sunday night before the
disaster. In the holocaust no one was there to bear witness. People
either oppressed or were oppressed, helped or turned their
eyes away. What would happen if people opened their
hearts and truly watched in Jerusalem.
Can we deeply accept tragedy with an open heart, then
move to heal and help from the seat of witness. The
atoms that change when watched, becomes the world
that has been transformed.
At ground zero, amidst all the togetherness and kindness
and effort, still thoughts and talk of those who
planned this disaster.
It is strange. I can only imagine the motives of those
who committed these acts. Undoubtedly they were
frustrated, hurt. Undoubtedly they felt politically,
economically, culturally, and individually helpless, frustrated,
afraid, and angry. These feelings are universal, the world filled
with sorrow. The rescue workers, the families, the world, all feeling
helpless, afraid, frustrated, and angry with this disaster. What motivates
the killer so too inspires the healers, the actions so profoundly different,
the initial spark perhaps the same.
I don't know if I am making this clear, but it feels so
important. Will the heart open or close? Will we
take our sadness and let it harden or let it melt?
Do we allow it to turn to hatred or to love? They
say the heart cannot fully love until it is broken; only the shattered
vessel can hold water. So too
only a broken heart can harden into hatred. Only shattered shards become
boxcutters and knives. How easily these feelings can
turn. Food that one day can nourish us and save our
lives, turns rancid and will kill. Love and hatred, good and evil, they
seem so far apart, but no further than water is from ice, and ice from
turning back to water.
The Atrium, filled with palm trees in the Amex Building
at the World Trade Center. Where chamber orchestras
once played now is eerily silent. The banners are
faded of their writing, ripped and dangling like sails of a pirate
ship found on a deserted island. Tangled steel cuts the view of sky
through shattered portals. And through the dust and smoke
and sounds of slogging feet through water, comes the
yellow slice of moon. Only she, it seems is
consistent. Later, just before dawn she has
ascended above the cloud.
So much devastation, the earth and the psyche marred
And still a beautiful new moon,
Rising white and Untouched above
Thank you for letting me share some of my thoughts and
feelings. Feel free to pass them along. My phone is
only sometimes working. I have a handful of other
cell phones and walky talkies, but best not to call. In an
emergency, land line at home is: [number deleted]